The Guardian 23 November, 2005

Fijian mercenaries in Bougainville

In what may be a new attempt to destabilise the progressive and pro-independence government of Bougainville which was elected in May this year, nine former Fijian soldiers have been surreptitiously landed in Bougainville. The soldiers were recruited by a disgraced businessman by the name of Noah Musingku, who is responsible for a failed pyramid money grabbing scheme and is now operating out of Bougainville’s "no-go zone". The "no-go zone" is part of Bougainville that is still controlled by the supporters of Francis Ona who died recently and a break away group led by Noah Musingku. One report has it that they gained entry by posing as missionaries.

The revelations have brought concern in Fiji where there is fear that the recruitment of Fijians as security guards to work in international trouble spots is now out of control. Hundreds of Fijian ex-soldiers are serving in Iraq and other Middle East countries.

A Fijian contingent was posted by the UN to Lebanon some years ago. They received military training and pay but when they returned to Fiji many were unemployed and offered themselves as mercenaries to unscrupulous recruiters.

Sandline International

Eight years have passed since the Papua New Guinea military launched an attack on its own government over its attempt to introduce mercenaries provided by the infamous British-run Sandline company. They were also to have been deployed in Bougainville at the height of Bougainville’s struggle for independence. At that time the outrage in PNG and internationally and the strong opposition from the PNG army forced the government to cancel the contract.

This outcome opened the door for the peace process to gain momentum, a process that ultimately led to the acceptance by the PNG Government of autonomous status for Bougainville and for an independence referendum in the future.

In Port Moresby, Bougainville Autonomous Government President Joseph Kabui and Inter-Government Relations Minister Sir Peter Barter raised concerns about the entry of the Fijians.

"Particular concern was expressed about the situation which has arisen as a result of the fraudulent claims made by Noah Musingku and others involved with the fast-money scheme’s dishonest promises and claims", they said in a joint statement.

They expressed concerns "at the presence and activities of a group of Fijians who appear to be engaged in training other men carrying and using high-powered guns. The matter has been raised with the Embassy of Fiji."

Education Secretary for the Autonomous Bougainville Government, Anthony Tsora, said classes at two schools where Mr Musingku’s "mercenaries" have been recruiting have been suspended and non-Bougainvillean teachers moved out of the area.

Just barge in

"We are concerned at how these people can just barge in anytime and put lives of our teachers and students at risk. We can’t leave them like this, therefore we have to suspend the schools", Mr Tsora said.

Speaking in a radio forum Jerry Singirok, the former PNG army commander who ordered the 1997 revolt against the Sandline mercenaries, is now calling on Pacific governments — including that of Fiji — to intervene. He said "it’s important that the government of Papua New Guinea acts quickly, acts decisively, to prevent what may be another escalation of the armed struggle".

School children

Speaking in the same forum, Ezekiel Massat the Police Minister of the Autonomous Bougainville Government said: "These nine Fijians are either serving Fijian military personnel or they are ex-military personnel and it’s causing a lot of concerns for us because while we are trying to establish government services on the ground and while we have actively engaged in weapons disposal still you have these foreign nationals who come in and it’s causing a lot of concern".

One of the recruiters of the Fijian mercenaries for Iraq, Sakiusa Raivoce said, "he would never allow his men to go to other parts of the Pacific. I would not even consider it, if this is the type of work they are going to carry out: training schoolchildren in the use of arms".

The revelations have prompted calls for the Fiji Government to do more to help its returning peacekeepers to reintegrate into society.

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